Edited by Gabriele Diewald, Leena Kahlas-Tarkka and Ilse Wischer
[Studies in Language Companion Series 138] 2013
► pp. 127–150
Remembering ( ge)munan
The rise and decline of a potential modal
Old English (ge)munan is one of the preterite-present verbs that became obsolete in the (strongly debated) more or less radical change into modal auxiliaries. Contrasted with those verbs that replaced the preterite-present in its lexical sense from Middle English onwards, an etymological analysis reveals gemunan to indicate an act of memory the function of which is not so much to (individually) reminisce about the past, but rather to (collectively) assess the present against the backdrop of the past. The preterite-present experienced a renaissance due to interlingual influence from Old Norse as mun was reintroduced and used as a modal especially in the northern dialects of English (cf. most prominently Sc. maun), moving steadily along the grammaticalisation cline just like the other fully-fledged modal auxiliaries. The eventual decline of mun – not only in Standard English but also in most regional varieties – can be explained from a functional perspective which also bears implications for current changes affecting the Present-day English paradigm of modality expressions.
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